17 September 2002
A French novelist is on trial in Paris for his remarks against Islam.
Controversial French author Michel Houellebecq is charged with provoking discrimination, hatred or violence. At issue are remarks critical of Islam made by Mr. Houellebecq during an interview last year with a French magazine, as he plugged his latest novel, Plateforme.
In the interview, Mr. Houellebecq described Islam as the "stupidest religion," and said he was emotionally "shattered" after reading the Koran. Mr. Houellebecq's novel also disparages the Muslim religion.
The plaintiffs include four Muslim groups, including one representing the Mosque of Paris. The groups have also filed charges against the magazine that published the interview. France's Human Rights League also announced it would join the plaintiffs.
Mr. Houellebecq, who lives in Ireland, was present during the trial's opening at a magistrates' court in Paris. His case has drawn sympathy from some French writers and intellectuals, who consider it an assault on free speech.
Mr. Houellebecq's lawyer, Emmanuel Pierrat, agrees. He told France Info radio he was worried authors in France may be censured for criticizing religion. He said freedom of expression is a paramount judicial principle.
Mr. Houellebecq's trial is one of several recent cases targeting controversial authors, and their works.
Last November, a Paris court fined former French general Paul Aussaresses and his editors for publishing a book detailing torture and executions committed during Algeria's war of independence.
Another trial opens next month targeting acclaimed Italian writer Oriana Fallaci. Mrs. Fallaci is also accused of denigrating Islam in a recent, best-selling novel.
Mr. Houellebecq's novel, though it has received a lot of media attention, has received mixed reviews from critics. In Britain, for example, the Sunday Times called it banal and badly written.